Viewing posts for the category myth
Myths are the most truthful stories we tell. They reach beyond fact and argument to the essence and authentic nature of who we are. Myths are the collected repositories of human wisdom. And every world mythology includes a myth of decline. This myth and its corollary — the myth of redemptive and recaptured glory — are twin narratives in every culture. They match and mirror the trajectories of hope and loss, of empowerment and erasure. They are object lessons in hubris and folly: Atlantis, The Galactic Republic, The Roman Empire, Gilead, The British Empire, Rivendale. The myth of decline describes how these places, how the moods and spirits of a given age, fall away and are lost.
That horizon stretches out. You know the one. It lies on the far side of a vast, unknowable plain punctuated by our dreams and fears and fantasies of what might be. The horizon retreats as we tread upon that plain, as we encounter the figures and actions of our passage. We watch the horizon, we wonder about it, we follow our footsteps along an indistinct line that meanders in that direction. Call this line destiny, or fate, or the labyrinth, or whatever you like. It is the path that we take.
The oldest artifacts of human endeavor – cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira, tools in the Blombos caves, Venus figurines so fantastically old we hardly recognize ourselves – are works of art. Creativity is the imprint of humanity, from the outline of a hand painted with ochre on a cave wall, to the mandalas and sacred paintings of the medieval traditions, to the films and music and poetry of today. Throughout all of human history, creativity has been the means by which we understand the inner and the outer worlds, the crucible in which we store our collected wisdom and our fears. The function of all creative traditions – the arts and the sciences, religion and philosophy, politics and war – is to explore the extent to which we can know ourselves.
South of the riverbend, twenty minutes along a trail fringed with pink flowers of hardhack and gangly stalks of sweet gale, a black spruce that I call the World Tree stands against a spring sky. Here, within earshot of the encroaching highways of suburban Vancouver, a broad bole streaked with umber meanders skyward. High up, an eagle rides a crest of sea air, glances down, then spirals away. Through a lattice of dark branches restless with vigor, nomadic flecks of blue sweep toward the horizon. A rustling brown blur in the canopy – squirrel – cracks a narrow branch.Underfoot, a long skein of root twists out from the great trunk, meanders toward a bristled head of cotton grass. The quick trill of a robin sounds nearby.
Myths of the Primordial Waters:
Ancient Mariners, Human Migration, and the Sea
(Originally published in Pacific Yachting, 2007)